Education in Denmark Did Not Help Her

Returning overseas graduates find it difficult to secure cushy jobs; recruiters say experience does more than degrees. After completing a postgraduate degree in marketing at a famous university in Denmark, Tran Mai Hoa was eager to come home and launch her career.

After months of searching, however, she settled for a position at a construction materials firm earning far less than the US$1,000 per month she had expected.
Graduates returning to Vietnam after studying overseas are finding that their pricey degrees don’t count as much as real-world work experience, according to a recent survey.

“It’s not easy to find a good job,” Hoa said. “Overseas students return with theory, alone. Meanwhile, they lack the experience that employers look for most during recruitment.”

Even among those who do manage to get jobs, Hoa said, the salaries fall far short of expectations.

“Some of my friends, who earned Masters Degrees abroad, were lucky to get jobs at foreign firms starting at $500 and up,” Hoa said. “However, nobody makes more than $1,000 per month.”

Grand familial hopes only added to the pressure. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics from a university in Australia, Nguyen Thai Viet’s parents couldn’t stand the thought of their son taking a job at a private company for VND5 million (nearly $250) per month.

“My parents could not accept that salary after paying more than $100,000 for my four-year degree,” Viet said.

A recent survey compiled by the local training and recruitment consultant, SHD, shows that 64 percent of the returning respondents said they would remain abroad to seek work after graduating.

According to the US Institute of International Education, the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, France and Singapore are the most attractive destinations for most overseas Vietnamese students. The US now is the largest Vietnamese market for higher-education.

The number of Vietnamese students, who are studying at universities and colleges in the US, rose by 2.3 percent to 13,112 in the 2009-2010 academic year compared to the previous school year.

Of that number, 66 percent said the salaries and bonuses offered by Vietnamese firms aren’t commensurate with the money and effort they spent on studying abroad.

The survey polled 350 respondents who graduated from overseas universities in January and February this year. Among the students who came back home to work, 83 percent said they were not pleased with their salaries and bonuses.

A representative from a large recruiter in Vietnam said: “It is wrong if you think that overseas students are much better than local graduates. At the entry level, overseas students are sometimes more highly prized for certain sub-skills – such as presentation, team work and problem solving. However, one’s ability to apply that knowledge to work and experience is much more important than degrees.”

The representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that overseas students need to earn supervisory positions if they want higher salaries. In order to get those jobs they need relevant work experience.

“A degree is not a factor that employers consider much in determining supervisor salaries. In those decisions, experience and ability play a decisive role.”

According to the SHD survey, 87 percent of the returning graduates said they had a difficult time adjusting to the business culture and work environment at home.

Hoa said she had a hard time applying the theories she learned in Denmark to her job at home.

“I was methodically taught abroad how many steps a marketing strategy needs. However, I could not apply this in Vietnam. The work process here does not strictly comply with regulations.”

Do Thuy Linh, who studied for five years at a US university, said it has not been easy to find a suitable job; salary is not her top priority. Linh said she has been consistently disappointed by the places she’s worked at.

“Many employers still don’t encourage creativity, or a proactive approach to work,” she said.

Since her return in 2006, Linh has resigned as a reporter and interpreter from three different agencies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

She is currently seeking a new job.

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